Friday, April 25, 2008

Holloway: Media Analysis

Memorializing a Woman is Not Evidence
Throughout the long years of fighting for women’s rights, there has consistently been a quieter voice questioning society’s norms from the opposite side—What about the men? Some issues men (and women are sometimes in agreement too) claim to experience discrimination with include certain occupations, the military, the justice system, and even, at times, politics. My media analysis focuses on one particular essay, authored by a man, which argues that men have historically been valued less in society than women. The piece was written by a sociologist named David Loewen in his book Lies Across America. The book examines the historical background of a large number of monuments/memorials located across the United States. The essay I found most interesting was one entitled “Killing a Man is Not News.” It is the story of a marker found in Downieville, California that commemorates the unlawful lynching of a woman there in the mid-1800s. Loewen states that the existence of this monument, along with other observations of his own, supports his claim that men’s lives are valued less in our society than women’s. His reasoning, when inspected through a feminist lens, seems very flawed. Here I will discuss why Loewen’s ideas of gender differences in the United States, based on assessments of occupation and crime, are ungrounded, illogical, and quite simply erroneous.
A more detailed description of the background information in “Killing a Man is Not News” is certainly in order before I really begin. The woman who was lynched in 1851 was a Mexican immigrant named Juanita. She was, by many accounts, a very attractive female who lived with her lover in a house in Downieville. After the Independence Day celebration of 1851, some drunken revelers were making their way through the town. One man, Jack Cannon, apparently stopped at Juanita’s house and broke down the door. He allegedly made some inappropriate comments about Juanita and her lover; they yelled at him and he left. The next events of the story are somewhat ambiguous. Cannon returned to Juanita’s house at some point hours later and tried to speak with them. It is unknown whether he went back to try to make amends or continue his harassment. At any rate, the conversation again became heated and Juanita stabbed Cannon in the heart, swiftly killing him. When the townspeople realized this, there were immediate cries to lynch Juanita. She was dragged to the town square, given a “trial,” and almost immediately condemned to death. As the story goes, Juanita then put the rope around her own neck and declared she would have done nothing different. The townspeople then hung her off the bridge in Downieville. The historical marker was put in place in 1996. The marker gives a brief description of the events of that day in 1851 and showcases Juanita’s bravery.
Loewen’s main argument centers around the fact that the very existence of this marker shows how much more society cares about women than men—he states that there have been a much larger number of men lynched than women in our history. The fact that this woman, Juanita, had a whole marker dedicated to her while thousands of lynched men have not been given this honor is evidence to Loewen that women’s lives are more valued by society. One point I think Loewen is grossly overlooking here is the fact that Juanita was lynched because she killed a man. Certainly a society that holds such less value for a man’s life than a woman’s would not react so violently and hatefully towards a woman who was defending herself from assault. The very title of the piece shows the contradiction here: if ‘killing a man is not news,’ then why is everyone so outraged? Granted, murder in any form is hardly glorified in a society. However, I think this detail is a very significant part of the story to remember. Loewen’s complete omission of this relevant piece of information weakens his argument severely.
Loewen cites many other reasons for his view that men are valued less in society than women. One point he focuses on as a disadvantage for men is the greater risk for men to be killed in their jobs than women. Loewen attributes this to the fact that men are the ones who perform the more dangerous types of work—truck driving, telephone lineman, etc. I would agree that statistics do support this statement. Loewen argues that the reason men are performing the more dangerous jobs is because society gives these types of occupations the masculine ‘seal of approval.’ Again, I would agree that this is true. However, is this because society does not want women to be at risk in the workplace, because their lives are felt to be so valuable? Loewen thinks so—I disagree. Women have always been taught that their place is in the home. As Betty Friedan discusses in her chapter of The Feminine Mystique, “The Problem That Has No Name,” it was always assumed that women would not enter the workforce after they were married and began having children. She notes that:
“A number of educators suggested seriously that women no longer be admitted to the four-year colleges and universities: in the growing college crisis, the education which girls could not use as housewives was more urgently needed than ever by boys to do the work of the atomic age.”
This excerpt highlights problems with Loewen’s logic. If women’s lives are so vital to society, why does society want to shut them away indoors and only have men doing the important work of our time? Why does society not consider it ‘worth it’ to educate women? These are the questions that came to my mind as I read Loewen’s essay. To me, these ideas cannot coexist, and I think the constant battling of feminists is direct testament to the fact that women have historically been undervalued.
Another topic that Loewen harps on for much of his essay is violent crime. Loewen offers the statistic that men are four times more likely to be murdered than women. Again, he argues that this is because men’s lives are less sacred, and again, I feel that Loewen is omitting some major facts about these murders. Although I do not have actual numbers on this issue, I would postulate that the overwhelming majority of murders involve a man killing a man. Yes, women kill too—this essay would obviously have never been written if that were not true. However, I am confident that just as the murder of a man is almost always performed by another man, the murder of a woman is almost always performed by a man as well. Here, I feel as though Loewen is “grabbing at straws.” I do not believe he has much of an argument on this point. If the overwhelming majority of “man-killers” were women, and they were still not given as much press coverage as when females were murdered, then I would suppose that Loewen could argue his point. As it stands though, if men are killing men—and women—then how does this show that their lives are valued less than women’s? If anything, I would say that this point only reinforces another problem with gender—the idea that to be masculine means to be aggressive and often violent if so provoked.
As ungrounded as Loewen’s argument about violent crime appears to be, he is not alone in feeling this way. As stated before, there has always been a quiet but constant flow of male assertions of disadvantage. The vulnerability of men to violent crime is one facet that has drawn much criticism. In 1990, Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware introduced federal legislation designed to “combat violent crime against women” (Ryan). There was no such legislation to help protect men from violent crime. Loewen would most likely interpret this, as did the author of this particular article, as evidence that women are more valued and thus more earnestly protected from harm. His entire text of “Killing a Man is Not News” supports that feeling, even though the initial outrage is because of violence towards a man. Another article, by Jeff Seeman, deals with this issue as well. A direct quote from his piece, “Why I’m Still Not a Feminist,” follows:
“Men comprise over eighty percent of the victims of violent crime, and the rates of spousal murder are roughly equal between men and women. Yet the press is much more likely to cover a story if the victim is a woman; violence against men is therefore frequently invisible.”
Seeman’s use of the word ‘invisible’ to describe the impact of crime against men in the United States is very similar to how Loewen describes murders of men in his essay—as “common and more morally acceptable.” As a whole, this country is relatively unfazed when it comes to murder. This can be attributed to the carelessness with which Hollywood portrays the loss of life, the accessibility to violent video games, and any number of other issues. Here I state that while this ubiquitous indifference towards violence is a serious matter in this nation, it is in no way gender-biased against men.
Overall, Loewen’s essay serves two purposes well: It brings attention to the heartbreaking story of Juanita and lauds the state of California for erecting a marker in her honor. Unfortunately, Loewen then commences to take this symbol of a state’s regret for a terrible injustice and turn it into a shaky and ill-supported assertion of male disadvantage—in a patriarchal society no less. I do agree that the whole idea of masculinity is harmful to men and women alike, although as a whole I do not believe it can ever be successfully argued that women are more valued than men in this society. I challenge anyone who happens upon any rhetoric of this nature to always be critical when discerning its meaning.

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